There are a few often-quoted maxims on BE that keep coming up within the "to trade or not to trade LMA" discussion. It usually goes something like, "You NEVER trade an all-star in his prime, especially with time left on his contract" and/or "You ALWAYS trade 4 quarters for a dollar, not the other way around".
I decided to test these sayings as they relate to the current Blazers by looking for evidence in the NBA’s recent history (since 2000 or so) to find the closest case study possible to Portland’s current situation with LMA to see how it played-out. I established several necessary qualifications for such a case study, specifically a team which:
1) Featured several exciting rookies/prospects;
2) While being an "up and coming" team, was likely to either miss the playoffs or barely make them;
3) Had an all-star in his prime (I excluded several superstars from contention as they simply have a much higher trade value than LMA – e.g. Howard, Lebron – note, both Cleveland and Orlando look primed to succeed in the very near future);
4) Traded said all-star in his prime, before his final contract year, for more young players and draft picks (as opposed to another star of a different position or multiple veterans etc.).
I was surprised that this type of situation doesn’t appear to have occurred too often, at least not that I could find. Many teams in a similar situation either traded their prospects for another star for a shot to contend (almost always unsuccessfully) and others simply traded their all-star for another all-star of a different position (they usually had a good back-up at his position who got promoted).
Without a doubt, the best fit for a case-study is the February 2008 Memphis trade of Pau Gasol to the Lakers. Honourable mention to the Pistons in trading Grant Hill (for Ben Wallace in 2000) and Jerry Stackhouse (for Rip Hamilton in 2002) before winning a title in 2004.
But back to the Gasol trade...
The similarities between the 2007-2008 Grizzlies and the 2013-14 Blazers are down-right creepy. Check out this roster comparison between Memphis and Portland respectively:
All Star PF: Gasol - LMA
Prospect 1: Conley - Lillard
Prospect 2: Gay - Batum
Prospect 3: Lowry - McCollum
Castaway recent high draft pick: Darko - TRob
Young center with potential: Swift - Leonard
Respected vet starter: Miller - Matthews
Vet back-up PG: Stoudamire - Williams/Watson
Back-up SF who may pan out: Warrick - Claver
Warm Body: Cardinal - Freeland
Next, a statistical comparison between 2007-08 Gasol and 2012-13 LMA. Again, the results are almost bizarrely similar. In fact, if Gasol had played one more minute per game, they might have been identical.
Age: 27 - 28
Seasons: 7 - 8
Years on contract: 3 - 2
MPG: 36.7 - 37.7
PPG: 18.9 - 21.1
RPG: 8.8 - 9.1
Blocks: 1.4 - 1.2
Steals: 0.4 - 0.8
Assists: 3.0 - 2.6
FT%: 81.9 - 81.0
FG%: 50.1 - 48.4
So with that in mind, here are the trade details along with a tracing of what happened to the players involved to evaluate the overall effect on the Grizzlies.
Feb. 1st, 2008:
Grizzlies trade - Pau Gasol and their 2010 2nd round pick (Devin Ebanks) Lakers trade - Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, Kwame Brown, draft rights for Marc Gasol, and 1st round picks in 2008 (Donte Green) and 2010 (Greivis Vasquez).
At the time, people were calling this a completely one-sided traded for the Lakers as they received an all-star and somehow didn’t give up a single one of their top-9 players. It was thought of by many to be a cap-saving move by the Grizzlies to make them attractive to potential buyers. Results: We all know that Marc Gasol panned-out, but how about everyone else?
1) Crittenton, sadly, didn’t pan-out as hoped and was later traded along with a 2015 2nd round pick to Washington for a 2009 1st round pick (Damarre Carroll). Carroll was later traded along with Hasheem Thabeet and a 2013 1st round pick (Gorgui Deng) for Shane Battier and Ishmael Smith. Battier later left via free agency, and Ish Smith was waived.
2) Aaron McKie was essentially added to make the salaries work out. He was later released.
4) Donte Green was later traded for Darrell Arthur. Darrell Arthur was traded last month along with the rights to 2013 2nd round pick (#55 Joffrey Lauvergne) for Kosta Koufus. Donte Green played 4 years in Sacramento, became a FA and just signed back with Memphis so they practically just got Koufus straight up for Lauvergne…
5) Vasquez was traded for Quincy Pondexter, who remains on the team.
So there you have it. We obviously can't know whether keeping Gasol would have given them a contender, but I think we can definitely say that trading him allowed them to become one a few years down the road.
Admittedly, Marc Gasol was a lucky fluke and without him in the deal, the Lakers would have gotten the better end of things (though mostly as a result of unlucky draft picks). Also, in today's CBA, a players potential is given as much worth as his current abilities so we may not get a similar haul of picks/prospects for LMA today.
But that aside, I would say that while this isn't definitive proof that we should trade LMA, it should at least let us reconsider the "refuse to even discuss trading him" position as it does show that trading an all-star in his prime can .
Personally, I can't help but feel we missed a golden opportunity at the draft to trade LMA to Cleveland for Tristan Thompson and the #1 pick (probably Noel or Len) and still had McCollum at #10...but that's just me. I hope we don't look back in 2 or 3 years with regret.